Massive Attack, Brixton Academy, London
Monday 21 September 2009
You don't really dance to Massive Attack, so much as sway to their dark tones, acid house keyboards and soulful vocals. At Brixton Academy though, the once untouchable masters of trip-hop struggled to elicit even that muted reaction.
Showcasing their first new material in three years, the band kicked off their nationwide tour with four new tracks, rather than any of the anthemic numbers from their 1991 breakthrough Blue Lines or the acclaimed Mezzanine. And from the polite rather than rapturous cheers, it was clear that the audience was disappointed.
At the centre of the half-a-dozen musicians on stage were Bristolian trip- hop pioneers Robert "3D" Del Naja and Grant Marshall, the only remaining founding members of a group which once labelled itself the "Five Man Army". After five years of soundtracks, contractually obligatory collections and abortive collaborations, they're set to release their much-anticipated fifth album in February next year.
On stage, Del Naja and Marshall seemed ill at ease. Their trademark furtive, menacing raps were few and far between and they were easily outperformed by the delightful Martina Topley-Bird, the crowd pleasing Horace Andy and the powerful Deborah Miller (the replacement vocalist for all of the Shara Nelson tracks).
In a far from atmospheric set, "Angel" and "Safe from Harm" formed a noble rallying cry as the audience struggled to get to grips with the sea of new material, but failed to stem the flow of fans heading for the bar. Even "Teardrop" was disappointing, thick and heavy, without any of the band's usual anarchic inspiration.
Massive Attack are still an intensely political group. During "Marakesh" a digital screen emulated an airport departures board of CIA extraordinary rendition flights, while throughout "Safe from Harm" a series of powerful quotes on freedom from the likes of Noam Chomsky flashed up, as the band finally got into some kind of groove.
The groove didn't last long though, as Damon Albarn's arrival (the Blur frontman has collaborated on the new album) and a truly awful performance of the new "Saturday Come Slow" failed to impress. It was "Unfinished Sympathy" that brought the crowd back from the bar and raised the biggest cheer.
Touring to 2 October (www.massiveattack.co.uk)
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